Church World Service launching aid program to help Ukrainian Roma refugees in Moldova

A Roma family displaced by a severe cold spell eats a meal in their temporary shelter at the Red Cross in Smederevo, Serbia, where they receive food and other emergency supplies from CWS.
A Roma family displaced by a severe cold spell eats a meal in their temporary shelter at the Red Cross in Smederevo, Serbia, where they receive food and other emergency supplies from CWS. | Paul Jeffrey for CWS

Church World Service will be launching a program to help Roma refugees living in Moldova who were displaced by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Christian humanitarian group announced earlier this week that it was creating a program to aid Roma refugees, also known as Gypsies, who fled Ukraine and settled in the neighboring nation of Moldova.

Steve Weaver, CWS’ regional director for Europe and the Middle East, told The Christian Post that his organization has helped Roma communities in the past, including one program in Serbia that has been operating for 15 years.

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“There has been a historical marginalization and mistreatment of Roma people that has caused limited access to resources such as education, not to mention discrimination and exclusion from the communities in which they live,” Weaver said.

“CWS’ vision is a world where everyone has food, a voice, and a safe place to call home. This vision includes the resources and empowerment that our Roma-focused projects intend to support.”

Weaver noted that while “Roma communities have challenges with inclusion and marginalization in many countries,” the Ukrainian Roma refugees who recently arrived in Moldova “are confronted with an especially unique set of challenges.”

“Not only are they faced with the discrimination that many Roma experience; they are also dealing with the myriad of hardships that all refugees face when fleeing war,” he continued.

CWS has a preexisting Roma aid program in Moldova created via a partnership with a local nongovernmental organization known as the Roma National Center.

This new program specifically centers on the refugees from Ukraine and was created through a partnership with the group Roma Women Platform ROMNI.

“We believe that empowerment is essential in providing lasting solutions. In our work with Roma, it’s a priority for CWS to work with Roma-led organizations whenever possible,” Weaver told CP.

“ROMNI is Roma-led, and we’d also heard great things about the director, Elena Sirbu’s, reputation and work with Moldovan and Ukrainian Roma. We started conversations with her earlier this year and were excited to be able to support their work.”

On Feb. 24, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, claiming they were protecting the right of territories in the eastern portion of the country to declare independence.

Although many speculated that the well-armed and numerically superior Russian army would easily steamroll Ukraine, the Ukrainians have offered stiffer-than-expected resistance.

Throughout the conflict, in which Ukrainian civilians have often been targeted, large numbers of refugees have fled Ukraine, often ending up in neighboring Eastern European countries.

Andrew Blakely, a CWS humanitarian response leader based in Moldova, told CP that the Russian invasion had “undoubtedly” made things worse for the Roma people.

“Ukrainian Roma were already one of the most economically disadvantaged and marginalized communities in one of Europe’s poorest countries,” explained Blakely. “Now they have been displaced to another country that is equally if not more economically disadvantaged. It is also a place where prejudice against the Roma people persists.”

Regarding efforts to help the Ukrainian Roma, Weaver said although “the challenges and specifics” might contrast with some of their other projects, “our goal remains the same: to advocate for and support Roma through access to resources, education, and programs that aim to eliminate discrimination.” 

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